100 Years of Theology
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Reflections of a Hundred Years of Pentecostal Theology[1]

Paul W. Lewis, Ph.D.


January 1st of 1901 was the day when Agnes Ozman, after much prayer, received what Classical Pentecostals call the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues.  Just a short time ago, January 1st 2001, the 100th anniversary of this monumental event took place.  Pentecostalism has moved from its humble beginnings in Topeka to one of the largest segments in Christianity (i.e. Pentecostal/Charismatics).  Whereas much has been written about the last 100 years in terms of history and growth, less has been written about the theological development.[2]  I will attempt to demonstrate some of the major theological trends over the last 100 years.  I will not repeat the history of Pentecostalism since the excellent works by Walter Hollenweger (1972), Klaude Kendrick (1961), John T. Nichols (1966), and Vinson Synan (1971; 1975) as well as the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (DPCM) have more than adequately covered these topics, and for the individual denominational groups, there are numerous works.[3]  Nor will I discuss the development of a Pentecostal systematic theology per se, since Gary McGee in his essay on this topic in the Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (Horton) more than adequately covers the topic; rather I will focus on theological trends within the written medium and within theological education.  By theology, I mean critical theological reflection maintained within the traditional categories of systematic theology, historical theology, and biblical theology.  Due to this author’s background, the survey presented below will be heavily based upon the Assemblies of God (USA) and the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).[4]  As much as possible, I will include general elements from other Pentecostal groups and from various countries, but I am aware of my own limitation in this matter.  To facilitate the study of the trends, I have divided the 100 years into four periods,[5] and after some general comments, I will suggest some projected theological needs in Pentecostalism.


This first period is called the period of formulation due to the fact that the foundational elements of Pentecostal thought were developed and established, and had set the tone for subsequent Pentecostal spirituality and theology (Land 1994).  The dates 1901 and 1929 are representative of the Topeka experience in 1901 and the death of Charles Parham in 1929 (symbolic of the end of the first generation Pentecostals).  Within these first few decades, Pentecostals find themselves heavily alienated from other Christian groups.  Frequently called and treated as a cult or heretics, they learned to be an enemy of the world, and a sojourner waiting for the heavenly citizenship to be realized.  Out of this fertile ground, there were some fundamental theological positions birthed, which are common to most, if not all, early Pentecostals.  First, God was seen as working today in the same way that he worked in the book of Acts.  In fact, it was adamantly declared that there is a continuity (or restoration)[6] of God’s work in the early church and Pentecostalism today (see McLean 1984).  Second, Pentecostals were open to spontaneous and divinely inspired sessions of worship. Within these worship settings, certain rituals became important within a church service, such as lifting hands, testimonies, and dancing, which reflected the spontaneous element of the worship service (see Albrecht 1999).  Third, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues was indivisibly tied to eschatology and the missionary effort (McClung 1999).  This baptism was the empowerment for witness, and when all have heard then the end would come.  On the other hand, this baptism signaled the certainty of being in the last days, and the need to reach out.  Fourth, the early Pentecostals were inter-racial (especially at Azusa Street), open to women in ministry, and were strong in their outreach emphasis.  Whereas the inter-racial element greatly diminished by 1920 (Kenyon 1978; Kenyon 1988, 40-176), the openness to women in ministry dissipated albeit more slowly (Kenyon 1988, 177-283).  Fortunately, the desire for outreach has perpetuated itself in several of the Pentecostal denominations (even at times to the detriment of the home missions opportunities). Fifth, although the ‘finished work’ doctrine of sanctification as part of the salvific process was Reformed or ‘Baptistic’ in origin,[7] by in large the early Pentecostals were heavily Wesleyan/Arminian with its emphasis on free will in relationship to God’s sovereignty. Sixth, typical of this period was the broadness of belief with explorations of different avenues within theology.  For instance, the doctrine of Tribulation within the AG statement of faith stated that there was to be a Great Tribulation.  Whereas many early AG ministers were Pre-Tribulation Rapture people, there were also Post-tribulation ministers or ministers with other views, such as D. W. Kerr (Anderson and Menzies 1993; see also D.J. Wilson 1988). Seventh, the early Pentecostals did not ‘just’ believe in ‘tongues’ or the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, their belief was a gestalt package of the above mentioned beliefs and other beliefs such as Divine healing, which together created for the Pentecostals a ‘Pentecostal Paradigm’ by which they saw the world. (Lewis 2000; Dayton 1987)

Within this period, there were two important events for Pentecostalism theologically.  First, from 1910 to his death in 1912, William H. Durham of Chicago taught the ‘finished work’ doctrine, which suggested that there is not a second instantaneous experience called ‘instant sanctification’ subsequent and different from justification, rather justification is the initial work with progressive sanctification taking place after this initial conversion experience.  The Pentecostal denominations founded before 1910, such as the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), and the Church of God in Christ, which were established prior to Durham’s teaching, tended to follow the ‘Five-fold Gospel’ of Christ the savior, the healer, the sanctifier, the baptizer and the soon coming king.  Sanctification being seen as another instantaneous and subsequent event to conversion. Other Pentecostal denominations founded after this teaching, such as the Assemblies of God (USA), and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, tended to follow the ‘Four-fold Gospel’ of Christ the savior, the healer, the baptizer and the soon coming king, while Christ’s work of sanctification was part of His salvation work (see Clayton 1979).

The second major event to make a dramatic shift with the Pentecostal landscape initially took place from 1914 to 1916.  An early element of Pentecostalism was the re-emphasis on the book of Acts, and many that believed in the return to the Bible only (most notably Acts 2:38; c.f. Mt. 28:19), as a rejection of tradition and traditionalism (c.f. Cambellites).  As such, one reading of the book of Acts suggested that a person should baptized in the name of ‘Jesus only’, and that the traditional doctrine of the Trinity was erroneous, rather they followed a modalistic Trinity (God presented Himself through different modes through history) commonly called Sabellianism (c.f. Reed 1988, 649; see also Macchia 1999, 15).  Several Pentecostal groups formed based upon this distinctive position, such as the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and the United Pentecostal Church (after a merging of two smaller groups), are called ‘oneness Pentecostals.’  In reaction to this other denominations, such as the AG, made extensive additions to their statements of faith to confront this position.

In terms of theological education, early on there was the noted need for ministerial training, so several Bible institutes were established.  These institutions were more interested in basic Bible training, while not emphasizing more than a rudimentary understanding of theology.  The emphasis being “placed on the mastering of doctrinal positions and the memorization of Scripture rather than critical thought or scholarly research.”[8]  The anti-analytical element within the Bible schools was in part due to the general distrust of seminaries and advanced education in general.  This was coupled with the belief that the Spirit would lead into all truth, so there is no need of critical reflection training, an academic degree to become a minister or, in the extreme cases, no need for sermon preparation. There were within the first few decades a plethora of Bible institutes started within the USA, but later several closed, merged or moved to different locations.  Note that this basic idea also greatly influenced the Missions effort overseas, where the AG, CoG and other Pentecostal missions agencies strongly endorsed and supported the establishment of bible institutes.[9]

This period saw the heart of Pentecostal thought develop.  It was also a time of theological exploration, which lead in part to the three main divisions of the Classical Pentecostals today—Holiness Pentecostals, ‘Baptistic Pentecostals’, and ‘Oneness Pentecostals’.[10]  This period also saw the development of ministerial training centers with their emphasis placed on practical or missiological endeavors.  These all were foundational for the developments within the next period.


This period starts after the death of Charles Parham (1929) and ends with the advent of the Charismatic Movement, especially with the Roman Catholic Church in 1967. Typical of this time period is the narrowing of theological perspectives within the Pentecostal framework, yet a gradual appropriation of Fundamentalist/Evangelical theological models and issues. This is the time period where many Pentecostal groups entrenched their theological endeavors.  Frequently, there were many books, usually written to a popular audience for the purpose of establishing understanding of traditional perspectives, such as within the AG the books by Myer Pearlman, P[eter] C[hristopher] Nelson, E[rmest] S[wing] Williams and others. (Jacobsen 1999; Macchia 1999)  These ‘doctrinal guides’ were not critically reflective, or addressing contemporary social or cultural issues of the day, rather they were presentations of biblically based doctrines in a logical way.[11]

During the early part of this period, many white American Pentecostal groups, most notably the AG and CoG, took steps to participate in the National Association of the Evangelicals (NAE).  The initial stark contrast between the more cognitive, Enlightenment influenced Evangelicalism and orality-pneumatologically based Pentecostals has somewhat diminished since the 1950’s due the ‘Evangelicalization’ of the Pentecostals.[12]   Within this arena, several traditional positions were apparently accommodated. For instance in the AG, this has observably happened in such areas as a shift in theological methodology (Jacobsen 1999, 90-107), the move from pacifism (Robeck 1988, 635; Kenyon 1988, 284-400), the rejection of ecumenical concerns (Robeck 1997; c.f. Daniels 1999, 243-4),[13] the move from the Holiness background and an implied ethics (Kenyon 1988; Spittler 1985, 234 n. 7), an Evangelical (i.e. National Association of Evangelicals) instigated revision of the doctrine of Scripture [both AG and CoG] (Ellington 1996; Spittler 1985; see also Smith 1997), the reversal of the role of women in ministry (Poloma 1989, 119, 241-3; Kenyon 1988, 177-283; Daniels 1999,  235; c.f. Powers 1999) and the demise of the belief of the Spirit’s presence and work in the present age (Kenyon 1988, 402-3, 408-9, 418-9).  This period also saw the diminishing of eschatological vision (Kenyon 1988, 402-3, 419-21) which was uniquely Pentecostal, yet this may have more to do with other factors rather then purely or mainly due to the Fundamentalist/Evangelical influence.  In terms of the AG doctrine of faith (in the USA- commonly called the 16 points), during this period the word ‘infallible’ was included in the statement about the scripture, and the term ‘entire’ was deleted about sanctification (Spittler 1985).  Further, white American “Pentecostals adopted the model of white Fundamentalism in erecting an alternative network of institutions to buttress their religious culture.” (Daniels 1999, 247)

Perhaps the two strongest challenges internally to Pentecostal thought during this period took place on the grassroots level.  The first was the ‘latter rain’ movement with its emphasis on ‘new prophetic light’ of understanding the Bible, the enlightening of hearts by the Spirit, the importance of the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as the Apostolic and Prophetic ministries within the church (Eph. 4:11).  Some of the more noted adherents to this movement were Stanley Frodsham, who resigned his position as editor of Pentecostal Evangel to follow and participate within the movement, the Elim Fellowship, and many other independent Pentecostal churches (Riss 1988, 532-4; Daniels 1999, 240).  This movement heavily influenced the Charismatic movement of the 1960’s, and reemphasized the restorationist perspective.  The second internal challenge was the renewed healing movements of the 1950’s, with such proponents as A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts and William Branham.  There was an emphasis on healing being tied to the atonement and also a renewed focus on demonology, exorcism and miracles (Chappell 1988, 371-4; Daniels 1999, 239-40).  Both movements originally were populist, and appeared theologically and biblically sound to the masses, only to find the biggest problems developed from extreme positions followed by some of the adherents.

In terms of theological education, the Bible institutes movement continued. However, by this time although several institutes included ‘Systematic theology’ classes, by in large they operated as indoctrination classes with textbooks for this usage in mind (Jacobsen 1999, 93).  Furthermore, the textbooks which were not Pentecostal tended to be Evangelical textbooks, which gradually moved from a traditional Pentecostal perspective to a more Evangelical one in such areas as the role of women in ministry.  Whereas in the early days of Pentecostalism, there were many ordained women pastoring, pioneering works, and in a variety of other ministerial capacities.  Theological education through the influence and usage of Fundamentalist/Evangelical textbooks among other factors started to gradually diminish the role of women in ministry (Daniels 1999, 235; Poloma 1989, 119, 241-3; Kenyon 1988, 177-283; c.f. Powers 1999).  This attitude can be seen today, insofar that women are frequently relegated to Children or Music ministry within the White American Pentecostal churches.  Furthermore, aside from the traditional books used to teach theology (i.e. P. C. Nelson; Myer Pearlman; E.S. Williams), many Bible schools used Reformed thinkers such as Augustus Strong or Henry Theissen as the textbooks for teaching systematic theology.  This has caused many within traditional Pentecostal circles to accept Reformed positions (e.g. predestination, irresistible grace) as standard acceptable belief.  This was/is seen overseas in Pentecostal Bible schools taught by missionaries, who attended Bible school in this period under these circumstances, who have used the same textbooks and lectures. However, one important element of this theological development during this time period especially within the AG was the move from Dispensationalism.  Previously within much of Pentecostalism, a dispensational framework was a very important part of theological formulation, albeit a modified dispensationalism (Sheppard 1984).  It was under the influence of E.S.Williams (as General Superintendent and author (Jacobsen 1999, 97)) and Stanley Horton (as Adult Sunday School curriculum author) that the dispensational framework diminished in importance.  Notably the recent Full-Life Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible and the Spirit-Filled Life Bible have further weakened the hold on the Pentecostal Study Bible market in replacing the Ryrie’s Study Bible, Schofield’s Study Bible and most important for Pentecostals, Dake’s Annotated Bible which all represented dispensational positions.

During this period, there was in one sense an entrenchment into traditional Pentecostal belief.  The major works were restatements of Pentecostal doctrine, and theological education frequently, especially in the systematic theology classes, was an indoctrination of denominational belief.  Yet the white American Pentecostals also accommodated, sometimes knowingly, but many times unknowingly, to Fundamentalist/Evangelical models, both in relation to the NAE and related organizations, and also due to the usage of Evangelical textbooks.


This time period starts with what is commonly called the Charismatic movement and ends with the advent of the ‘third wave’ movement.  By in large, the Charismatic movement was felt to exonerate the Classical Pentecostals stance on the Baptism with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of ‘speaking in tongues’, and with the emphasis of the modern usage of the charismata.  In 1967, the Charismatic movement started within the Roman Catholic Church.  Many Pentecostals could accept Charismatics from the various Lutheran, Reformed and even Anglican groups, but to accept them within the Roman Catholic Church was contrary to an early Holiness/Pentecostal belief that Roman Catholic Church was the Beast in the Book of Revelation, as well as other similar beliefs.  During this period, the real challenge was actually on three external fronts theologically.

The first challenge came from the Charismatics who originated from denominations which maintained a high degree of theological training for its clergy, so many of the Charismatic leaders came with strong theological training and writing ability.  However, many came from heavy Reformed, Lutheran or Catholic backgrounds and brought in their theological frameworks by which to now include their revised pneumatology. (e.g. Gelpi 1971; 1981; 1994; J. R. Williams 1988-92)  This was especially challenging to Classical Pentecostals since many Charismatics did not believe that speaking in tongues was the initial physical evidence, rather one who is Baptized in the Spirit ‘gets to speak in tongues’.[14]  Further, their theological framework was greatly divergent from the heavily Wesleyan based theology of the Classical Pentecostal groups. The somewhat uneasy relationship between Charismatics and Pentecostals in some theological positions was overcome in certain academic circles with the establishment of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (which by 1982 became broadly interpreted to include Charismatics and those interested in these groups), several inter-faith dialogues, and other similar vehicles, yet the divergences are somewhat still present.

The second major challenge started in the early 1980’s with the ‘third wave’ movement.  This movement was heavily dependent upon the writings of C. Peter Wagner, Charles Kraft and the leadership of John Wimber of the Vineyard Fellowship (established 1977).  Foundational to Wagner’s writings was his understanding of Church Growth principles by which to establish and develop a growing community.  Early on, Wagner, Kraft, and Wimber made little noticeable theological statements except to expound that there was not any subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, rather a believer was to flesh out what he or she already received at their conversion, yet understanding that there will be numerous subsequent infillings.  As such, there was no subsequent experience called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion, but the subsequent infillings may appear to act as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Frequently, the use of up to date music, the emphasis of ‘body ministry’, and compromise almost at any cost to avoid divisiveness, helped draw many from Evangelical groups into their churches (Wagner 1988).  Interestingly, several people and churches from Classical Pentecostal backgrounds also joined.  When those from Classical Pentecostal backgrounds were asked about the theological differences between the Classical Pentecostals and the Vineyard, they either did not know any differences existed (possibly showing a lack of Classical Pentecostal training or the compromising element) or their local community allowed (or even accepted) the Classical Pentecostal stance.

The third major challenge has been the attacks of noted scholars on the key passages in Acts and related texts that these texts do not say what Classical Pentecostals believe that they mean.  Such men as Frederick Bruner (1970), and James Dunn (1970; 1975) lead this charge, while others attacked Pentecostal belief and practice on a popular level, like John MacArthur (1978; 1988; 1993).  These works lead to the refutation by the Pentecostal/Charismatic scholars Howard Ervin (1984; 1987) and Harold Hunter (1983) concerning the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  This also led to a series of discussions in biblical theology on the nature of the Luke-Acts texts and their in theological doctrinal formulation most notably by Roger Stronstad (1984), Robert Menzies (1995) and in a more controversial position, Gordon Fee.[15] This actually set in motion the strong movement of Pentecostal scholars to critical theological reflection and publication. It was also the work and support of scholars such as Walter Hollenweger (1972), which opened up the eyes of scholars and the doors for Classical Pentecostal scholars.

Concerning the first and second challenge, during this period by in large the Classical Pentecostals have not addressed these issues on a theological level, but most often address them on a popular level in magazines, or orally in messages at general meetings.  However, during this period Logos International as a publisher and Theological Renewal (1975-83), New Wine (1969-86), etc. were established and became dominant resources for the Charismatic movement.  Yet at this same time, except for denominational publishing houses publishing books and journals (e.g. Paraclete), there was not any major publishing houses or journals by Classical Pentecostals except for the Society of Pentecostal Studies (SPS) journal Pneuma (started in 1979).[16]  So there were limited theological forums for such discussions.

During these decades theological education became stronger in the Bible schools which mostly became Bible colleges from the 1950’s-1970’s.  Further, several Master’s level seminaries were established, such as the Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary (1970), the Church of God Theological Seminary (1975) and the Assemblies of God Graduate School (later the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) (1973).  However, the textbooks and much of the theological training of the teachers were Evangelical, mainly from Fuller Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Furthermore, in Classical Pentecostal circles most of the doctorates received were in the practical areas (D.Min. or D.Miss), in Pentecostal church history, or in some form of Biblical studies including some within biblical theology.  Systematic theology, historical theology, Medieval and other branches of church history, and Christian Ethics tended to be neglected as fields of study among Classical Pentecostals. There also was a lack of basic theological training at the ministerial and grass roots level, partially causing a plethora of independent Pentecostal churches to spring up, many which have been established since 1970 around the world.  There were/are also several other groups which have various theological perspectives which have flourished during this period and into the next, such as the Shepherding movement, and the ‘word of faith’ doctrine.  Unfortunately, by in large these groups have had little theological responses from Classical Pentecostal authors aside from oral presentations and short denominational responses. 

Much of the Pentecostal theological positioning has been in reaction to the above three challenges as well as the more traditional attacks by dispensationalists, cessationists, and others (e.g. MacArthur).  Interestingly, the one area where the Classical Pentecostals shined in the academic realms has been in the area of missiology.  In fact, the strong missions connections to Bible schools is also readily noted (Brooks 1989, 14-17).  Much of the early work in the 1940’s-1950’s bore fruit and the ‘indigenous church principle’ and later, ‘partnership in missions’ became important elements of missiological discussions.  Furthermore, it was the work of Melvin Hodges (1953; 1977; 1978), David Womack (1973), and more recently Morris Williams (1986) and John York (2000) among others who through the literary medium have gone beyond the denominational missiological audience.[17]


This period represents the theological re-envisioning of the Pentecostal movement.  It is during this period that many theological strides have taken place from within Pentecostal ranks. Since the mid-1980’s there has been numerous works of theological reflection published from a Pentecostal perspective.  This is mainly due to the inclusion of the European Pentecostal Theological Association Bulletin (later the Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association), Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, and the Journal of Pentecostal Theology for theological articles.  Further, besides denominational presses, Sheffield University as part of the JPT supplemental series, Hendrickson Publishers and Creation House have published many Pentecostal works and Zondervan, Scarecrow Press and other presses have published several other important works by Pentecostal authors. 

                The central question to this discussion, and the underlying question of many, if not most, writings by Pentecostal scholars of the last decade or so is “What is a Pentecostal?” (e.g. Everett Wilson 1999)  There are two main issues that have dominated Pentecostal theological discussions related to the Pentecostal self-identity. The first is “whether there is a Pentecostal hermeneutics?”  In contemporary Pentecostal thought, this question has been answered either in relationship to Evangelical hermeneutics and theology, or Postmodernity and Postmodern hermeneutical theories.  Some authors of Pentecostal hermeneutics have used the Evangelical exegetical model with the Pentecostal experience included (e.g. W. Menzies 1985), and others has tended to agree that there is a Pentecostal hermeneutic by interacting with such Postmodern authors as Paul Ricouer and Hans Gadamer (e.g. Byrd 1993; Cargal 1993; Israel/Albrecht/McNally 1993).[18]

The second issue concerning Pentecostal hermeneutics is the relationship between Pentecostals and conservative Evangelicals. On the one hand, Pentecostal belief is Evangelical in that Pentecostals agree with the five fundamentals which Evangelicals also espouse, among other beliefs (and the conservative orientation), although somewhat different eschatologically, and that Pentecostals likewise tend to be theologically conservative.  On the other hand, Dispensational and Cessationist theologians fundamentally oppose the Pentecostal belief of the modern continuity of the Spirit’s work with the Spirit’s work in the early church (Sheppard 1984; Ruthven 1993).  The Pentecostal ‘assumed’ authority of the Bible acts a fortiori to the Evangelical cognitive development of the authority of the Bible (see Lewis 2000; Smith 1997).  Further, the core theological position of the ‘subsequent’ work of the Spirit after salvation distances the Pentecostals from both Reformed Evangelicals and many others, except certain Wesleyans.[19] The question is ‘are Pentecostals subsumed under Evangelicalism, are they parallel but distinct or some other variation?’ We still recognize that Pentecostals are dominantly Orthodox with Western church roots from the Protestant branch.  The common Pentecostal consensus is that Pentecostal theology and hermeneutics is benefited by and benefits from interaction with and in dialogue with other traditions of Christianity.[20] For example, Pentecostals should (and have been in) dialogue with Roman Catholics on the miraculous, with Wesleyans on the quadrilateral and experience, and with Eastern Orthodox believers on the imago dei and the Holy Spirit. Whereas Pentecostals have much to learn about many theological and ethical issues that other traditions have been deliberating for centuries, the Pentecostals can assist in the discussions on experience, missiological practices, and charismatic worship among other areas.  This is the hope of the present and future dialogues between Pentecostalism and other Christian traditions.

In recent years, another common way to demonstrate Pentecostal self-identity and to even substantiate one’s position theologically is to appeal to early Pentecostal sources (Wilson 1999; Wacker 1988).  This has been done in discussing eschatology (D.J. Wilson 1988; Anderson and Menzies 1993), spirituality (Land 1994), missiology (McClung 1999), etc. Further, part of the value of the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements is its extensive historical and theological analysis.  So, the answers concerning Pentecostals self-identity tend to be either historical or within biblical interpretation.

    In Pentecostal circles there are a larger number of Systematic theologians today than in times past, although still a comparative minority to either Biblical Studies or Practical theology scholars.  There is still a need for more Pentecostal Systematic or Contemporary theologians, church historians and Christian ethicists.  Since the mid-1980’s there has been a great influx of works in systematic or contemporary theology by such Classical Pentecostal scholars as French Arrington, Simon Chan, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Stephen Land, Frank Macchia, Gerald Sheppard, Miroslav Volf, and Amos Yong.  However, there is one noticeable characteristic in that most of the published books by these authors are extensions or revisions of their dissertations.  Further, most of the published books by Pentecostal authors which are not revised dissertations tend to be compilations of essays.[21]  Whereas this is a wonderful beginning, it is hoped that more works in the future will be broader, and more comprehensive than dissertations or essays are purposed to be.  Another interesting characteristic is that the more noted Classical Pentecostal scholars tend to teach in non-denominational schools: Gerald Sheppard (University of Toronto), Russell Spittler, Cecil M. Robeck, Veli-Matti Karkkainen (Fuller Theological Seminary), Peter Kuzmic, Eldin Villafañe (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Samuel Solivan (until recently of Andover-Newton Theological Seminary), Grant Wacker (Duke University), Miroslav Volf (Yale Divinity School), Gordon Fee (Regent College), Edith Blumhofer (Wheaton), Stanley Burgess (Southwest Missouri State University), as well as several others, both Classical Pentecostals and Charismatics, at the Pentecostal/Charismatic schools of Oral Roberts University and Regent University.  Further, whereas in the past most Pentecostal scholars received their doctorates from Evangelical seminaries, more recently aside from D.Mins and D.Misses, more, if not most, tend to receive their doctorates from non-denominational or non-Evangelical schools such as Harvard University, Union Theological Seminary, Duke University, Boston University, Baylor University, Emory University, and in Europe, Oxford, Birmingham, Sheffield, Tübingen, and Basel.  Further, there are even a few Pentecostal seminaries developing certain schools of thought and publishing in areas of critically reflective theological works, for example, the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary and the Church of God Theological Seminary on differing sides of the Postmodernity and Pentecostal hermeneutics discussion.[22]  Currently, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary with the literary output of Gary McGee in particular, within the fields of Pentecostal history and missiology should also be noted.  It is hoped that these schools and others will grow and develop in the future for the betterment of Pentecostal theology.

Another issue within theological education, must be to address the issue of why several Classical Pentecostals in doctoral studies have tended to leave the Classical Pentecostal denominations and join other, generally mainline, churches.  This is especially true of Black and Hispanic Pentecostals (Daniels 1999, 238).   Most who have made this transition have stated that it was because of the lack of emotional support (and also financial support).  When they went on to advanced studies many other Pentecostals made comments to them about them going to a ‘cemetery’ or stated ‘don’t come back liberal’.  Further, other Pentecostal graduate students stated that their peers or their constituency did not accept their education.  In particular, several women with academic degrees even found it hard to receive papers within these denominations, in spite of their ‘calling’ to learn.  So, although there have been some great strides in the development and articulation of Pentecostal theology, there is still very much to be done.


The Classical Pentecostal movement is unique in several ways.  First, although there were some specific theological positions assumed since the beginning, there was not any major systematic articulation of these positions since its inception.  Compare this with the Reformed movement, Lutheranism and Wesleyanism which each had major theological formulations within their respective movements from very early on.  Except in missiology, there has not been any major theological formulation in the first 80 years (or maybe 100 years) of the depth and breadth of the early Reformers like John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, the early Lutherans like Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, and the early Wesleyans like John Wesley and Joseph Fletcher.  Further, prior to the mid-1980’s, Classical Pentecostals major influence tended to be because of the major influx of numbers and their work in missiology.  Unfortunately, most of the works prior to this time tended to be popular with little in-depth analysis.  Further, what few works there were that were thoughtful delineations, tended to be on various pneumatological topics—Baptism of the Holy Spirit, ‘speaking in tongues’, or the charismata.

There is currently a crisis in Pentecostal theological training in Bible colleges and churches within the USA and (and I would suggest) around the world.  Pentecostalism has been a missiological movement with a grassroots emphasis.  As such, theological underpinnings and implications are seldom looked into apart from some popular, cursory discussions.  In fact, there are numerous stories of books and articles sent to denominational publishers edited to half the size of the original in order to ‘reach the layperson.’ Similarly, on one side some Bible colleges have been dropping accreditation, since ‘we don not seek the favor of men, but of God.’  While on the other side, others have increased in number due to expanding into a liberal arts college, and/or an inclusion of a Master’s program (often without adequate faculty or research facilities) while their ministerial training section maintains or declines in attendance.  Further, an informal survey several years ago demonstrated that in a least one Pentecostal denomination, most students within the seminary were from secular colleges and universities, and not from denominational schools.  Compound this with the fact that in the late 1980’s Sunday school attendance went into a decline among the AG (USA).  Related to this, and probably because of this, since the mid-1990’s excluding the Asian and Hispanic congregations, the AG church attendance has been in decline.  Furthermore, the average age of ordained ministers is getting older with fewer new applicants.  Theological education through the schools and into the churches has become a serious concern which must be addressed, if the Pentecostal denominations will be able to face and overcome the contemporary Pentecostal identity crisis, and forge into the future.


When looking into the future of Pentecostalism there are a few noticeable projections.  First, it is apparent that the issue of Pentecostal self-identity will be a primary concern for several years to come, so discussions on Pentecostal hermeneutics including its usage of postmodern methods and the relationship of Pentecostals to Evangelicalism must be further explored.  Second, there is no doubt that there needs to be a systematic theology from a Pentecostal perspective.  By this I mean a thorough going fully developed systematic theology, which is more than a denominational doctrinal restatement[23], or a Reformed or some other framework with a pneumatological veneer (e.g. J.R. Williams 1988-92).  Third, the needs for good solid Pentecostal textbooks are more than apparent.  Besides the need for a systematic theology mentioned above, there needs to be works in every area from a Pentecostal perspective.  Although there are some good works in missiology, works on Christian Ethics, Foundations for Ministry textbooks, and an Old Testament survey, for example, are long overdue.  Fourth, there needs to be more specific works in several from a Pentecostal perspective in historical theology, such as a Pentecostal study of the Medieval Church or Eastern Orthodoxy, and in Christian Ethics, such as the Pentecostal perspective on Bioethics.  These will further demonstrate what God is saying to Pentecostals, and provide a venue for interaction with Christianity as a whole. The final hope is the desire and expectation for the breakdown of the commonly held bifurcation between the more popular works, which are seen as practical, spiritual and vibrant, and the scholarly works, which are seen as analytical, theological and spiritually and practically dead.  Scholarly, analytical works can and should ultimately be immensely practical and spiritually vibrant.  This bifurcation creates a false dichotomy within the mind which ultimately is self-defeating insofar that the major works and tools needed for confronting different winds of doctrine and various cults are disregarded.  A true Pentecostal theology must be analytical, yet practical, thorough, yet vibrant in order to be God-centered and effective for His work.

In conclusion, Pentecostalism has grown over the last 100 years in unprecedented ways.  Further, it has definitively demonstrated that it is a missiological movement.  However, there has been a neglect of the more theologically critical works.  Whereas it is my desire to express my excitement for the wonderful things that God has done, it is also my hope to note the shortcomings in order to rectify these items in the future, should the Lord tarry.




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[1] This essay is a revision of a paper originally presented at the 9th Annual William Menzies Lectureship in January, 2001 at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary, in Baguio, Philippines.

[2] One noticeable exception is Frank Macchia’s essay, “The Struggle of Global Witness: Shifting Paradigms in Pentecostal Theology,” in The Globalization of Pentecostalism, eds. Murray Dempster, Byron Klaus and Doug Petersen (Irvine, Ca.: Regnum Press, 1999), 8-29; see also Jacobsen 1999; also in Biblical studies which includes some works within Biblical theology, the essay by Wonsuk Ma, “Biblical Studies in the Pentecostal Tradition: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” in The Globalization of Pentecostalism, 52-69.

[3] e.g. on the Assemblies of God (USA) see Edith Blumhofer, The Assemblies of God. 2 vols. (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1989); Carl Brumback, Suddenly . . . from Heaven (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1961); and William Menzies, Anointed to Serve (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1971); on the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) see Charles W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army, rev. ed (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 1977); on the International Pentecostal Holiness church see Vinson Synan, The Old-Time Power (Greenville, SC: Advocate Press, 1973)­­­­­­­­; and on European Pentecostalism see Nils Bloch-Hoell. The Pentecostal Movement (London: Allen & Unwin, 1964.); for a more detailed account see Grant Wacker, 1988. “Bibliography and Historiography,” In Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 65-76; see also Jones 1983.

[4] Hereafter abbreviated AG and CoG, respectively.  For a multi-racial/cultural perspective of American Pentcostalism, see Daniels 1999; For other parts of the world, see the series of essays on various related topics, in The Globalization of Pentecostalism, eds. Murray Dempster, Byron Klaus and Doug Petersen (Irvine, Ca.: Regnum Press, 1999), 127-258.

[5] It is understood that these divisions are somewhat arbitrary and that the century can be divided differently.  I have selected the following divisions for ease of discussion and to help facilitate the recognition of general trends.

[6] The issues of continuity vs. restoration have been on-going, although Pentecostals were much more restorationistic in the early part of the century, (see Faupel 1996; c.f. Dayton 1987), especially in the ‘Latter Rain Movement’, whereas today Pentecostal theologians and scholars in general tend to lean to continuity (e.g. Stanley Burgess 1989; 1994; 1997; Cecil M. Robeck 1992; etc.).

[7] This is assumed due to William Durham’s background and his being influenced by John Owen and others, but it should be noted that one proposed reading of John Wesley’s works could also line up with this perspective, and possibly some of Durham’s early followers were, in fact, such Wesleyans.

[8] Lewis Wilson, 61; also quoted in Macchia 1999, 9; see also Brooks, 1989, 11-12.

[9] See Brooks 11-18 although from a more optimistic perspective; note Jacobsen 1999, 93.

[10] There are also interesting racial correlations of these three divisions, Daniels 1999, 238-9.

[11] Macchia 1999, 8-10; Macchia extensively quotes from Russell Spittler, “Theological Style among Pentecostals and Charismatics,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World, eds. John Woodbridge and Thomas McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 297; Jacobsen divides the period into two parts: 1930-55-Period of Pentecostal Scholasticism and post-1955- ‘Evangelicalization’ Period, Jacobsen 1999, see especially 93.

[12] This tendency to modify into Fundamentalist beliefs, institutions and forms is found in Pentecostalism throughout the world, Satyavrata, 208, 219.

[13] This can be clearly seen in the 1962 pulling of the Ordination papers of David Du Plessis by the AG due to his ecumenical activities (i.e. WCC involvement, and as an observer in Vatican II). He was later reinstated in 1980. See Russell Spittler, “Du Plessis, David Johannes,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 250-4.

[14] On several variations of this perspective among Charismatics, see Lederle 1988.

[15] On Gordon Fee and some of this controversy see, Patrick Alexander, “Fee, Gordon Donald (1934-),” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 305; see also the collection of his more controversial essays, Gospel and the Spirit (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1991).  Roger Stronstad, Robert Menzies and Gordon Fee have had an on going debate (found in their books and numerous articles) concerning the usage of Luke-Acts in the formulation of theology.

[16] For a good overview of publications during this period, see Warner 1988, 747-51.

[17] Other important works describing Pentecostal Missions and its theories are Dempster, Klaus and Petersen 1991; McClung 1986; McGee 1986; 1989; Pomerville 1985; Wilson 1997; and several others.

[18] My own perspective on this is that I believe that the latter is not advisable due to fact of the Gadamerian/Ricoeurian bifurcation between the text/interpreter and the authors, and the lack of bifurcation between the sacred and secular text (Harrington and Patten 1994).  I do believe that Pentecostals can and do use the same hermeneutical methodology as Evangelicals. Yet in a very real sense the Pentecostals do not exactly use an Evangelical hermeneutical model for two reasons: First, as Proudfoot (1985) notes, it is impossible to divorce the method from the content, and the content of the whole process (from pre-understanding to application) is clearly Pentecostal, based upon a ‘Pentecostal Paradigm.’  Second, there is a possibility of a ‘theological context’ within the exegesis, which Pentecostals believe relate to Pentecostal life today, thus, informing their reading of the Biblical texts.  Therefore, I think that there is, in terms of the whole process, a Pentecostal hermeneutic (which is not to say that there is a Pentecostal exegetical model). For there is a definite Pentecostal theology that is discernibly different from Evangelical theology, especially from the Reformed branch, and other theological traditions, while also contributing to the understanding and development of Biblical theology.  Further, there are practices and experiences, which are markedly, Pentecostal, and are foundational through the whole hermeneutical process to the interpretation of the Biblical text.  As such, not only is there room for a Pentecostal theology, and Pentecostal hermeneutics, there now is the foundation, potential and need for a Pentecostal ethics.  However, this does not mean that Pentecostal hermeneutics is completely separate from ‘Christian’ hermeneutics, rather it is an integral part of Orthodox theology and hermeneutics (see Lewis 2000).  On Postmodernity, see Best and Kellner 1991; for various Evangelical responses, see Erickson 1998; and various Pentecostal responses, see Harrington and Patten 1994; Johns 1995; Karkkainen 1998; Robert Menzies 1994; Sheppard 1994; 1999.

[19]  Hocken 1997; Robeck 1988, 635; Smith 1997; Lederle/Clark 1983, 27, but Pentecostals are not necessarily pure Wesleyans either.

[20] It is my belief that Pentecostal thought is Wesleyan, and Evangelical in many points, but it ultimately is not completely subsumed by any other theological, ethical, or hermeneutical tradition.  This does not mean that Pentecostals should be isolationists.  Rather Pentecostals should be in constant dialogue with others within Christianity to overcome our own blind spots, and to broaden the perspective of other believers. Therefore, Pentecostals should not be sectarians, nor should they be completely subsumed under Evangelicalism, rather Pentecostals need to have a clear understanding what the Lord is saying to and in Pentecostals to more clearly and beneficially assist and be assisted by Orthodoxy as a whole. See Lewis 2000.

[21] E.g. Dempster, Klaus, and Petersen 1991; 1999; Elbert 1985; 1988; Horton 1994; Hunter and Hocken 1995; McClung 1986; McGee 1991; Ma and Menzies; Robeck 1985; and Mark Wilson 1994.

[22] Note that these two schools have more than one Classical Pentecostal author who has published on the relationship of Pentecostal hermeneutics to Postmodernity.  The former school distances itself from the usage of postmodern critical theories, whereas the later endorses with reservations its usage.  Further, several at former school suggest the potential of a distinctive Pentecostal theology without a postmodern usage in hermeneutics.

[23] e.g. P. C. Nelson, Myer Pearlman. Note that although Horton 1994, and Arrington 1992-4, are much more critical and reflexive compared to their predecessors, they “still harness the theological task to the summarization of doctrine for use in the pedagogic arm of the denomination.” (Macchia 10)

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